Firm's appeal to reclaim 2,800 firearms rejected
Automatic rifles seized 3 years ago will not be returned
Hong Kong police may shortly have to decide what to do with two container-loads of confiscated machine guns after the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal for their return.
More than 2,800 weapons and accessories were impounded by customs in April 2004 after the company that was shipping them from Malaysia to the United States, now known as CP Ships USA, notified the department of the nature of the cargo, which was aboard a ship selected for a spot check.
A spokeswoman for the Customs and Excise Department said that once the firearms were forfeited, they would be turned over to the Hong Kong Police to be disposed of as the commissioner saw fit. CP Ships has argued that it should be allowed to complete the shipment. It has said that it only became aware of what was in the containers after their arrival in Hong Kong.
It had engaged a Malaysian company, Sealord Shipping Services, to organise shipment of the containers to Hong Kong, from where they were to be loaded on to a CP Ships vessel bound for the US.
The containers were, in the words of Mr Justice Anselmo Reyes of the Court of First Instance, 'stuffed with Bren light machine guns, Sten and Sterling sub-machine guns, and machine-gun magazines and fillers to a value of about US$400,000'.
Mr Justice Reyes in May had rejected an application by CP Ships for a judicial review into the circumstances of the seizure.
While the shipment had been a legitimate one, with appropriate documentation and licences from both Malaysia and the US, the judge had said it could not be overlooked that the guns had been shipped to Hong Kong without any attempt to comply with the city's laws on commodities such as automatic rifles.
CP Ships appealed, arguing that the chief executive should have had to give reasons why the firearms were confiscated.
The company argued this was especially so because it contended that the guns were shipped from Malaysia without the knowledge of its management.
The Court of Appeal, comprising vice-president Anthony Rogers, Justice of Appeal Doreen Le Pichon and Mr Justice Arjan Sakhrani, disagreed.
There was nothing to compel the chief executive to give reasons for an administrative decision, it said.
It also noted that the company's own evidence showed that sections of the firm were aware of the nature of the goods well before their arrival in Hong Kong.
CP Ships argued that the confiscation of the goods was disproportionate to the wrong it committed by not declaring them and that the decision was causing unnecessary hardship for the firm.
The Court of Appeal accepted that hardship might have been a valid argument for arguing for a lesser penalty in other circumstances.
However, given the major policy considerations involved in this case, and the fact that the firm had not demonstrated that it had any satisfactory system in place for adhering to Hong Kong's shipping laws, the appeal had to fail.
The court dismissed the appeal and ordered CP Ships to pay costs.